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Industrial hemp produces a dense stand of plants. The seeds are harvested and can be used for oil products. John M. Steiner / Forum News Service

North Dakota college aims to offer first hemp degree in the state

BOTTINEAU, N.D. — Students who attend Dakota College at Bottineau next year could learn how to raise hemp, opening the door to train more North Dakota farmers so they can enter a growing industry.

The two-year college in north-central North Dakota has asked the State Board of Higher Education to allow the school to offer associate degrees and a certificate program for hemp production. The board’s academic and student affairs committee will review the proposal Tuesday, June 18.

If approved by the SBHE, the college could begin offering the classes as early as January, said Keith Knudson, chair for the Dakota College department of agriculture. The school would be the first in the state to offer a degree and certificate program for hemp production.

“We just think there is a lot of opportunity,” Campus Dean Jerry Migler said. “It just seems like it has a lot of potential.”

The program will educate and train students on growing industrial hemp with a THC level below 0.3% — that eliminates the intoxicating elements found in marijuana — for commercial use, according to a North Dakota University System staff report. Students would graduate with a two-year degree, or potential producers could participate in a shorter program to obtain certification.

North Dakota was one of several states that participated in pilot programs offered through the 2014 Farm Bill to produce hemp, and Congress legalized hemp production in 2018 through another farm bill that year.

More than 50 producers have been licensed to grow hemp in North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. That’s compared to 34 growers in 2017, when North Dakota farmers planted more than 3,000 acres in 17 counties, according to the latest report from the state Ag Department.

With more than 25,000 uses for hemp, the crop has created a growing industry in the U.S., Knudson said.

“We’re seeing an increased demand in hemp products nationwide, and it does fit in our agriculture program fairly well in North Dakota because hemp does grow relatively well in our climate,” he said. “We see that as an option for producers in our region.”

Hemp can be used for food, feed, oil, rope, clothes and even building products, to name a few examples. Agriculture and state leaders have touted hemp as a potential cash crop for North Dakota.

Gov. Doug Burgum signed legislation in March that aligns the state and federal definitions of hemp and calls for the establishment of a program to regulate production.

Migler said the college has a longstanding natural resources mission — it opened in 1906 as the North Dakota School of Forestry. The school has worked over the years to expand that mission, including in agriculture, he said.

Dakota College is uniquely suited to offer the degree because of its facilities and its proximity to hemp producers, Migler said. It also can work with Minot State University to test hemp to make sure it is meeting the 0.3% THC limit.

“I think we are just touching the tip of the iceberg because there are so many products that can be made with hemp,” Migler said.

The academic and student affairs committee also will review a proposal for North Dakota State University to stop offering a master’s degree in its nurse educator program. The degree allows nurses to teach in baccalaureate and associate degree level nursing programs, but leaders have suggested removing the degree at NDSU due to low enrollment, according to a summary report from university system staff. The University of North Dakota and the University of Mary also offer the degrees, the report said.

NDSU stopped offering classes for the degree in 2014, but existing students were educated until the last student graduated from the program in August 2017, according to staff.

University System Chancellor Mark Hagerott has recommended the SBHE approve both proposals.